By Jeff Klingman, theBluntness Feature Writer
In the first few months of 2019, the legalization of adult-use cannabis in New York has been treated as a juggernaut, a goal backed by both by the state’s governor and a newly elected legislature dominated by members of his party who are sympathetic to that goal.
March was the first month where that idea hit some rocks for the first time, a missed benchmark suddenly putting the near future of recreational weed in doubt.
While some conservative pockets of the Empire State dug into deep opposition, other signs on the ground suggest that an emboldened cannabis culture is moving past a tipping point, with or without official permission.
Here’s what’s happening in the push for legal New York weed, right now, in March of 2019.
State Budget Leaves Legalization Behind
In the biggest blow yet to his stated goal to fast-track adult use cannabis legalization by the end of the calendar year, Governor Andrew Cuomo officially acknowledged that he didn’t have enough support to tuck the measure inside the state’s omnibus budget ahead of that document’s April 1st deadline.
The governor remained upbeat on getting it done, eventually. “There’s a whole legislative session after the budget and my take is it will be done during the legislative session post budget and therefore I took the revenue out of the budget,” he said.
But separating legal marijuana from a must-pass state budget that funds dozens of necessary agencies and services creates an intensified magnifying glass on the issue, and lessens the prospect for quick and tidy passage.
Lawmakers from conservative pockets of Central and Upstate New York are proving especially skeptical in the early stages. Some county sheriffs have cited road safety concerns over buzzed drivers, while other officials express reluctance to approve a proposal with so many regulations left loosely defined. Whatever happens on the state level, a growing number of counties have pre-emptively vowed to eventually opt out.
There’s also the possibility that a stand alone bill could open up a leftward flank. Progressive lawmakers and committed advocates have continued to press aggressively for social justice measures like the purging of criminal records for non-violent offenders, as a non-negotiable part of any legalization measure.
“I believe we’ll get it done this year,” Cuomo said this week. How and when we get there is suddenly unclear.
Meanwhile in Midtown…
None of this has stopped New York City’s hustling grey market from accelerating in ever more ambitious ways.
Medical dispensaries continue to add locations, vape pens are delivered to apartment doors daily, and now smoke lounges are emerging with an exclusive speakeasy (or, “smoke-easy”) vibe. If you know, you know.
Stories of secret, and fancifully illegal weed parties happening on a rotating series of Brooklyn rooftops have been trickling out to press for a minute.
Curators of high-end cannabis dining club, Dinner is Dope, have kept their location secret while courting press attention. But this isn’t just happening in the hipster corners of the city, or even on a ever-shifting nomadic basis. Cannabis clubs are putting down roots.
A few recent visits by theBluntness to a private weekly weed party at a fixed midtown location suggest that the stigma is fading, and that the day to day reality of New York weed is already advancing several miles ahead of Albany’s red tape.
Right now you can visit a fully functioning, though technically illegal, dispensary and smoke lounge where a diverse crowd of industry professionals and in-the-know bud enthusiasts can mix and mingle, buy and light up. The business is diversified, already plotting content strategies and merchandising plans alongside their illegal lounge.
Inside, several stories above street level, feels like hanging out in the not-too-distant future. There are edibles, pre-rolls, and flower packets for sale from a makeshift dispensary counter that follows West Coast design, without quite the overabundance of variety adult use states enjoy.
There are flat screens on the wall and dope jams on the stereo. A modest concession stand turns out sodas and toaster pizzas on demand. The smoke is thick as a hot-boxed sedan.
Whether or not that aspect can ever survive the broader reality of the city’s clean air laws remains to be seen. But once real above-board money floods into the city’s marijuana market, an elevated slate of celebrity munchies chefs, curated playlists, and mustachioed THC-mixologists are sure to follow.
While upstate lawmakers pump the breaks, the entrepreneurs of New York City, and the stoners they’re eager to serve, aren’t waiting on Andrew Cuomo for their green light.
Photo Adobe Stock